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How Can I Support My Wife's Baby Name Choice?

My wife is African-American and I'm white. My family had a hard time with our marriage and now that my wife is pregnant, they can't agree on anything. My wife wants to name our daughter after her late mother, Lillian, but my mother hates it and says it's too old. How should we handle this?

–Stuck in the Middle

You ask how to handle your mother's disapproval of your wife's preferred name. I can reassure you that your mother is far from the only grandparent I've encountered in this column to complain about the name of her grandchild. The vast majority of them (eventually) learn to keep their complaints to themselves. I can also pull up data about lovely Lillian's current rise in fashion—far from outdated, it's been a top-30 name for almost a decade and will sound stylishly quaint and charming to most modern parents.

Given the history of conflict with your family, though, I'm not sure those practical tips will serve you well. Your wife is pregnant, grieving her mother, and has dealt with animosity from your family over numerous issues, including her race. You seem to want to placate everyone but clearly feel it's an impossible task. I think you are right and that you need to limit your goals here to just one: supporting your wife however she needs you most.

Talk to her and ask her what will help her. Does she want your mother to approve of her choice of name? Then whip out those statistics and reassure your mom until your face turns blue that Lillian will fit right in with the kindergarten class of 2022. Does she want some distance from your family's critiques? Then run interference, spare her gatherings that she’s just not up for, and do everything you can to shield her from their disapproval. Remember, you and your wife are a team now and that loyalty trumps everything else. Maintain civility, of course, but never make her fear that your allegiance to your new family is wavering for the sake of your original. Make sure your parents understand your refusal to listen to criticism of your wife.

I have one final concern. You've mentioned your wife's feelings about Lillian and your mother's, but not your own. Do you actually like the name? Can you assess your feelings objectively about it, given your wife’s strong reasons for her preference and the tension caused by your family's dislike? This may feel unnatural, but spend some time by yourself compiling a list of names you like and see how Lillian fits with your favorites. Then speak with your wife candidly about your feelings, making sure to sympathize with her understandable love for the name. Choose your daughter's name together, without input from anyone else. Keep it a secret, if you must. And then stick to your decision, knowing you made it in mutual respect and love.

Together, you've already weathered challenges that would have torn other couples apart. That connection will carry you through this one, too, and all the ups and downs of parenting to follow.


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December 5, 2016 11:54 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Lillian is a lovely name, and your mom needs to butt out. All that matters is that you and your wife both like the name.

December 5, 2016 1:40 PM
By Jennifer (not verified)

Lillian is a beautiful name with a great nickname (Lily). Your mother named her children, now you and your wife get to name your children.

It sounds like you're a typical new husband, who believes that he has to "compromise" between his wife and his mother. Stop that or it will ruin your marriage. When you said your vows, you promised that your wife is now your top priority. You two are a team. Stop trying to please your mother. Stop trying to force your wife to placate your mother. Your mother will only treat your wife as badly as you allow her to. You and your wife should set boundaries and demand that your mother respect them.

December 5, 2016 7:33 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

You married your wife despite their racism. Now you want to let them have ANY say in naming your children? Name your own children. You shouldn't even speak to them regarding this; clearly they have an agenda.

December 6, 2016 11:00 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Mom doesn't have to agree with the name for your child. Stop telling family members your name choices and announce the name when the baby is born. If they don't like it, that's their problem. The baby is you and your wife's child, not theirs.

December 8, 2016 11:41 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Yes, stop listening to you mother. She got to name her children & now you and your wife get to name yours. That's the way it works.

Normally, I would say your mother will get used to whatever name you pick, because that is how it usually happens. However, you mentioned race as an issue and that makes me think that no matter what you name your child your mother will have an issue with that name. Not because the name itself is a problem, but because there are much deeper issues within your family. If you and your wife are going to have a successful marriage, you are going to have to stand up to your mother & the rest of your family of origin. Do it now, and be prepared to continue to have to do it until the get the message.

December 15, 2016 12:44 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I wasn't expecting the name in question to be Lillian. I was expecting something horrible like J'Duquishia. Maybe now's the time to tell your mom that you agree with her, you've changed your mind, and now you can't decide between these three absurd and horrible names...which one does she like best? Maybe the name Lillian will begin to seem lovely and pretty in comparison!

December 16, 2016 10:49 AM
By Stacie (not verified)

I'd tell your mother that she got to chose baby names and now it's your wife's turn. She used her chance and she did a great job and now that part of her life duties are over. Lil will be a very cute nickname. Sounds like your mom needs to get over more than just this name.

December 20, 2016 5:10 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

It's time to forget what your mother thinks for a minute. This is not her child. It is you and your wife's child. Your wife wants to honor her late mother in one of the loveliest ways possible. How could you take that away from her just because of what your mother thinks? Let your wife have this one, please.

December 22, 2016 12:29 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I think the most important thing here is that your wife is happy, as she is the one carrying and delivering this baby - which is hard hard work! Your mother will learn to love Lillian because she will love the child its associated with.

January 3, 2017 3:23 PM
By Tiffanie Alexander (not verified)

Do you love the name? If you love the name, you should not be discussing this with your mother. As a black woman married to a wonderful white man, I was worried how his family would react, but fortunately, his family is wonderful. His mother wasn't thrilled in the beginning, but that had nothing to do with race or me and just had to do with no one being good enough for her little boy. My husband stood up to her, and she quickly warmed up to me, and now I completely adore her and wish we saw her more often. If your family is racist, that will probably never happen. You need to stand up, right here and right now, you need to tell your family, either support my wife and I fully, or back out of our lives forever. I will accept nothing less. My mother doesn't like my daughter's middle name. We had our second child, and my mother loves the first name and hates the second. I shut her down instantly, she just keeps it to herself now. If YOU don't like the name, then ask her if you could do a middle name, or maybe you can just use the first initial. That is what I did for my first child, it is what Jewish people do, and yes I am black and Jewish by birth, so instead of Dorothy, we chose Danielle for the middle name for our first born. So now we have an Ariana Danielle and a Summerlin Verity. We love the names. If you love you and your wife love it, run with it. Tell everyone else to keep their opinions to yourself.

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